Yes, I’ve already reviewed The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. I thought I would go back to something that I think is important. It is something that we tend not to learn easily. People tell us about, but the cultural pull can be so difficult to escape.
The quest for marriage, or the search for a marriage partner, must include developing your own relationship with Christ. Since our hearts are factories of idols (Calvin), we quickly make idols of marriage itself, or particular people.
We make an idol of marriage when we think we MUST be married. We sound like Rachel, who said she must have children or die (Gen. 30). We get angry with God because he hasn’t provided a spouse. Marriage won’t fix all your problems or address all your felt needs.
We can also fixate on particular people. We end up like all the men in There’s Something About Mary. We pursue a relationship in an unhealthy manner, rule out other relationships and harm other people who stand in our way. But that is extreme. Think of Jacob, who made an idol out of Rachel. He had to have her, and nobody else but her. Or John Newton whose journals reflect his constant temptation to make an idol out of his wife, Polly.
Without a deeply fulfilling relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in their lives.
Marriage, or our spouse, becomes a functional savior. It saves us from loneliness, emptiness, financial ruin or hardship etc. The other person feels responsible for our personal happiness, and corporate happiness. They cannot deliver and resentment is the inevitable end. It will get ugly!
Keller then hits upon the main issue I wanted to discuss. He notes that empirical studies show that men focus on physical appearance while women look for financially well off spouses. Here are the idols: looks and beauty. This is why most financially well off men have good looking spouses. Both people are able to satisfy their idols.
For years I couldn’t get a girl friend. I had before in high school and college. But the dynamics changed. I was a broke grad student seeking a vocation that didn’t pay incredibly well. Since I wasn’t a hunk, I was not considered a good catch. Oh, there were other issues but that never stopped a woman from getting married to a doctor or lawyer who wasn’t handsome and was a jerk.
Dating, or whatever means you use to find a spouse, becomes about self-merchandising. We create false images of ourselves, and wonder why we both end up thinking “Who is this?” a year or so into marriage.
We hold others to impossibly high standards. Men tend to look for the perfectly beautiful (and reasonably intelligent) woman. I knew a guy who once dated a professional water skier. Her legs were supposedly beautiful and powerful. He compared all future prospective girlfriends to her. Perfectly compatible women were rejected on account of their legs.
I’ve talked to too many men who fear they won’t be attracted to their spouse after a few years unless she’s drop-dead gorgeous. For most married people I talk to, sex becomes increasingly about the person and less about how they look. There are exceptions, sadly. But if guys think they will remain hunks well into marriage, they have another thing come. Hair loss and potbellies are in their future, along with hair growing out of their ears and back.
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31
Attraction must be comprehensive. Yes, there should be some physical attraction. Marriage does, and should, have a romantic and sexual component. But there is far more to a healthy marriage relationship. Character is highly important. Keller refers to Jonathan Edwards, who said that true virtue makes a person beautiful. The gospel, the source of true virtue, makes people of good character. Their character reflects God’s. They then share in his beauty.
So many people choose their marriage partner on the basis of looks and money- rather than on character, mission, future self, and mythos- that they often find themselves married to a person they don’t really respect that much.
Mythos, according to C.S. Lewis, is another important part of attraction. This is the thread that connects the person’s favorite ways to spend time. In other words, the other person gets you and enjoys many of those things. This is so important because no married couple I know spends all their time (aside from sleep, work and eating) in the marriage bed. Sex is the spice, not the meat of marriage. You have to enjoy one another’s company. There has to be enough common interests to spend enjoyable time together. CavWife doesn’t “get” sports. But there are enough things we enjoy together to keep us in the same place talking about life together. She didn’t marry me for my charming good looks or my money because both are in short supply.
So, if you are single recognize the traps created by your own idols regarding marriage. Not everyone will be a good fit for you, but there are plenty of good fits for you. Yes, God is sovereign and has a person for you. But you don’t discover that in mystical moments. I decided I wanted to marry CavWife while hunting for Jonathan Edwards’ grace in the rain. She got me enough. And though they are “perfect” for you, they aren’t perfect and they are God’s means to perfect you (and you them).